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In Our Words: On authority, COVID-19 fatigue and “losing the room”

So, we’re back under restrictions again and the third wave is in Manitoba. This sucks. It feels like deja vu - we’ve been here before, it hasn’t been fun and we hoped we wouldn’t be here again.

So, we’re back under restrictions again and the third wave is in Manitoba. This sucks.

It feels like deja vu - we’ve been here before, it hasn’t been fun and we hoped we wouldn’t be here again. What do we do now?

I’ve noticed Brian Pallister is a fan of using sports metaphors in press conferences - they often make me kind of wince, but maybe he has a point. I’m going to steal that idea here.

Whenever we’ve seen strict measures brought into effect, cases have slowly stabilized and declined. It’s not perfect, but the best offence against COVID-19 is literally a good defence.

It’s easy for someone like me, a newspaper hack in a forgotten town in a forgotten region of a forgotten province, to second-guess things. Monday morning quarterbacking is easy and it surely can’t be easy to call the right play these days - I’ve got nothing but sympathy for health workers forced to take one for the team every single day.

Let’s look back at the first wave of COVID-19. There was, within weeks of the first cases coming to Manitoba, a quick response and an explanation of concepts we’ve become very familiar with - like learning a new defensive scheme, it seemed weird and foreign at first, but after some practice, we got the hang of it. The basics of beating COVID-19 - stay home when you can, stay safe when you can’t, wash your hands and keep your distance - were mentioned a lot and we were each told why we needed to do this. We learned fast. We were ready for game situations.

Most of us bought in - there is no “I” in team, after all. Manitobans answered the bell and flattened the curve heading into the summer. There were a lot of pats on the back and self-congratulation after that one - “good game, good game, we stepped up to the plate and knocked it out of the park.”

We thought we had a lead. That lead evaporated pretty fast come fall.

The second wave was a huge hit to Manitoba - especially the north. It was the kind of tough blow it’s been hard to recover from. We went from having only a handful of cases in the north to having literal thousands - from a light jab to a flurry of uppercuts.

The third wave is now underway in Manitoba. Like the first two, it started in some parts of Canada before getting to Manitoba. Like the first two, it started in Winnipeg, then spread to other communities in the south. It hasn’t yet hit the north in a big way - in fact, overall cases in this region are actually going down for the moment - but we still need to play hardball.

Manitoba’s fight against COVID-19 has kept the disease from running up the score as much as it could have. That doesn’t mean we’re winning. It feels like COVID-19 is up on the scoreboard once more - and playing from behind is so difficult.

Health restrictions are a start, as are bridge grant funds and starting a provincial paid sick leave program - about a year too late, but the game’s not over yet.

There are places where I think things have fallen flat. Returning to health restrictions, like those we had when things were at their worst, has been demoralizing. After 15 months of pandemic, returning to a gameplan that we’ve only needed when we’re losing has just broken people. It’s difficult to play one game at a time right now when people need to both fight COVID-19 and to not completely lose their marbles. We’re one sad team right now.

The new health measures and how they’re applied can be odd, too. New health restrictions applying the same way across Manitoba, even though not every location is in the same situation, is confusing. Disallowing outdoor gatherings on private property while allowing people to meet outside on restaurant patios - which was allowed for a while, though not anymore - felt bizarre.

The push to get more people vaccinated while, at the same time, not having clear messaging about the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine (which is safe) and having an inconsistent supply of doses, is also odd. If vaccination is how we move to the next round, why are we still only vaccinating northerners a few days each week? You miss 100 per cent of the shots you don’t book appointments for - why aren’t people booking them? Are there people who look at restrictions and think, “oh yeah, let’s go to overtime”? The net is empty and the defence is behind us - how are we not scoring?

Why are attendees and organizers of anti-restriction rallies (where masks aren’t worn and people aren’t distanced) not being fined or punished? Why, when asked, does the province and the premier promise increased enforcement only to have that not happen? Other premiers, like Iain Rankin in Nova Scotia, have had injunctions filed to stop the rallies before they happen – no such luck here. If you have a bad player on your team, you don’t let them out there – you bench them, don’t you?

What good is having a solid gameplan if you can’t communicate the X’s and O’s?

Sadly, looking at Manitoba and how those I care about are handling things right now, one sports metaphor sticks out. In hockey, there is a phrase used when a coach or authority loses the trust of the team, when they aren’t followed or taken seriously. The team’s results suffer. This phrase gets tossed around often when teams have an extended run of bad or uninspired play, when it looks like coaches’ jobs may be on the line and fans are upset.

That phrase, I fear, now applies. The Manitoba government has indeed “lost the room.”

It brings me no joy to say that and I know they're hollow words from the outside. Governments right now are under a full-court press from people like myself who want to see decisive, proactive, effective action (as has been done in other jurisdictions where things have been handled better) and from others who are against any kind of restrictions. Some who are simply burnt out get forced to warm the bench. Others are yelling from the cheap seats, holding protests and rallies and saying the restrictions violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (which they don’t - honestly, read the rulebook first.)

The more we tighten up health orders, the more we risk alienating people who have tried their hardest to continue following them and the more we empower the people who just said “screw it” and tried to live normally while intentionally skipping steps. We’re pushing clean players further and further toward the penalty box while others stick and spear others willy-nilly, knowing they won’t get penalized.

Regardless of how bad it feels, we have to hold a steady line against COVID-19, to play as a team and not blow this game late. Stay home when you can, be safe when you can’t and get your shot at the first chance you get.

After all - defence wins championships, right?

This column appeared in the May 12 issue of The Reminder.

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